Sunday, June 24, 2012

Is it Safe to Drink Alcohol While Pregnant?

I have noticed over the last few days that the topic of "drinking while pregnant" has been a trending topic.  There have been several stories which were published over the last week regarding this topic.  Publications such as US News and World Report, the Huffington Post, and The Week are among many news organizations talking about five new Danish studies published in the BJOG An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The studies looked at the effects of low, moderate, high and binge drinking by mothers while pregnant.  Their children were evaluated at five years of age to determine if there were any effects caused by the mother consuming alcohol while pregnant.  The researchers found that "low and moderate weekly alcohol consumption in early pregnancy is not associated with adverse neuropsychological effects in children.  Low average weekly alcohol consumption was defined as 1-4 drinks per week, moderate as 5-8 drinks per week and high levels as 9 or more drinks per week. Binge drinking was defined as intake of 5 or more drinks on a single occasion. Participants who did not drink during pregnancy were included as the unexposed reference group."  It is interesting to note that an alcoholic drink in Denmark is defined as 0.4 ounces of pure alcohol while in the US it is 0.6 ounces.

"The papers found that low to moderate weekly drinking in early pregnancy had no significant effect on neurodevelopment of children aged five years, nor did binge drinking. Focusing on children’s IQ and executive functions, no differences in test performance were observed between children whose mothers reported 1-4 or 5-8 drinks/week per week in pregnancy compared to children of abstaining mothers. However one finding showed that high levels of alcohol, intake of 9 or more drinks per week, was associated with lower attention span amongst five year olds."

Despite studies like this, I'm still not sure if I would feel comfortable consuming any alcoholic beverages while pregnant.  I think the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome is real and I'm not sure the small amount of pleasure I'd derive from having an alcoholic beverage is worth the risk.  This also contradicts an earlier study that I first read about in January.  That study published in the journal Alcoholism:  Clinical and Experimental Research found "Higher prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) in every pattern we examined was significantly associated with an increased risk for having an infant born with reduced birth length or weight or having a smooth philtrum or thin vermillion border or microcephaly.  The most significant associations were seen during the second half of the first trimester; for every one drink increase in the average number of drinks consumed daily, there was a 25 percent increased risk for smooth philtrum, a 22 percent increased risk for thin vermillion border, a 12 percent increased risk for microcephaly, a 16 percent increased risk for reduced birth weight, and an 18 percent increased risk for reduced birth length.  This paper clearly illustrates that drinking alcohol, especially binge drinking, during the first seven to 12 weeks of gestation is associated with four of the most important facial features characteristic of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) as well as reductions in birth length and weight that are also characteristic of infants and children with FAS.  This study also illustrates clearly that there is no threshold that triggers these features of FAS. Instead there is variability from woman to woman in the level of drinking that produces these features."

I know that many European women drink throughout pregnancy.  However, it appears more European countries are beginning to encourage pregnant women to abstain from alcohol due to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.  I think with many conflicting studies that for the time being, I will abstain from alcohol while pregnant.  It will make that first drink post partum taste that much more wonderful!

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